Grand Avenues by Scott Berg

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: This is why Washington, D.C. traffic sucks.

Quick synopsis: The story of Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s efforts to plan out Washington, D.C.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: L’Enfant got hired to plan D.C. and got fired before completing it because of bureaucracy. Yes, D.C.’s problems preceded D.C. itself!

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Washington, D.C. was created as a homage to Paris. L’Enfant also set up many of the roads and causeways in order to maximize the view.

My Take: Anyone who has ever been in Washington, D.C. asks the same question, “Who the hell set up a city like this and why?!” The answers are Pierre Charles L’Enfant and he didn’t get to do it all otherwise it would have been much better.

L’Enfant was a very intelligent man who had wonderful vision and ambition. Unfortunately, he missed the one thing that is truly required in the Capitol. He did not know how to get along with others including the ones actually in charge.

L’Enfant was a personal favorite of George Washington who personally asked him to design D.C. Along the way, however, he decided to make an enemy of Thomas Jefferson which is not a good idea in the early days of the republic.

Berg gives all the gory details. And the myth of “the swamp” was well on its way.

Verdict: The story is a bit thin, but Berg tries to keep it as interesting as possible.

If You Liked This Try:

  • David McCullough, The Great Bridge
  • Eric Jay Dolin, Brilliant Beacons
  • Brantley Hargrove, The Man Who Caught the Storm
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Grand Avenues by Scott Berg
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